DIVA TALK SPECIAL: Sassy LuPone Sizzles As Anything Goes' Singin' Sweeney

News   DIVA TALK SPECIAL: Sassy LuPone Sizzles As Anything Goes' Singin' Sweeney It was one of those electrifying, all-too rare moments that only the musical theatre can provide. As a packed house thunderously applauded Patti LuPone's thrilling re-creation of her second-act Anything Goes show stopper, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," LuPone turned her back to the audience and gestured to the conductor. As the orchestra furiously turned its music back a few pages — and the trumpet soloist rushed back to his seat — LuPone bellowed, "Brothers and sisters. We are here tonight to fight the devil!"
The program cover for the Anything Goes benefit.
The program cover for the Anything Goes benefit.

It was one of those electrifying, all-too rare moments that only the musical theatre can provide. As a packed house thunderously applauded Patti LuPone's thrilling re-creation of her second-act Anything Goes show stopper, "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," LuPone turned her back to the audience and gestured to the conductor. As the orchestra furiously turned its music back a few pages — and the trumpet soloist rushed back to his seat — LuPone bellowed, "Brothers and sisters. We are here tonight to fight the devil!"

I had thought the Tony/Olivier Award winner was going to treat us to, perhaps, a reprise of the last verse of the Cole Porter song, but instead, she repeated the entire five-minute number from the very beginning. The audience cheered, and the young company of dancers and singers seemed as delighted as the rest of us, partaking in the excitement that filled Lincoln Center's intimate Vivian Beaumont Theatre. And, if possible, LuPone's "Gabriel" encore was even better than her initial delivery. She was more relaxed, more vocally secure and had even more fun with the number, commanding the stage with a fiery intensity while belting her number to the hilt.

As she finished the song — surrounded by the young dancers and singers — with a rousing, "Blowooooooooh, Gabriel, Bloooooowooooooooh," she tilted her head back, smiling joyously, and received a second round of tumultuous applause. This time, however, the audience spontaneously leapt to its feet and hooted and hollered for several minutes.

The evening was a one-night-only concert of Cole Porter's classic Anything Goes to benefit New York's Lincoln Center Theater. The concert reunited three of the stars from the 1987-88 Tony-winning revival: Patti LuPone (Reno Sweeney), Howard McGillin (Billy Crocker) and Linda Hart (Erma). The evening began with speeches by Board Chairman Linda LeRoy Janklow and Board Vice-Chairman Joan Straus Cullman, the latter the wife of Joe Cullman, a generous supporter of Lincoln Center Theater who was being honored on his 90th birthday.

As the lights dimmed, the familiar sound of Cole Porter's voice was heard singing the verse of "Anything Goes": "In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking/Now heaven knows. . . " Slowly, the orchestra — which was situated onstage behind several movable portholes — began to play, and the audience cheered, a palpable sense of excitement filling the air. Time has been kind to the show's three stars. LuPone looked terrific donning her red wig and made several stunning costume changes throughout the evening — she looked particularly fetching in her "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" red dress. The actress-singer often jokes in her solo concerts that she steals costumes/paraphernalia from every show she's in, and one wondered which hats and assorted accessories were from the original production!

The sassy actress delivered her lines with wonderful comic timing, and her singing was, expectedly, thrilling. Her "I Get a Kick Out of You" was as lovely as ever, but it was her "You're the Top" duet with the still-boyishly-handsome Howard McGillin that provided the first show-stopper of the evening. The two seemed to relish performing the witty Porter tune once again, having fun cavorting onstage while building the song to a feverish climax, "If baby I'm the botttttttuhhhhhhm, you're the taaaaaahppp!"

McGillin, who is currently starring at the Majestic in The Phantom of the Opera, also scored with his "Easy to Love" solo, his creamy tones filling the theatre. And, the gravelly voiced Hart had fun belting her solo "Buddie, Beware" in the evening's second half.

The first-act finale, the musical's title tune, was another exhilarating moment. LuPone delivered the show's anthem with the requisite panache, and director-choreographer Robert Longbottom of Side Show fame wisely built in an instant encore of the final verse. Longbottom, in fact, added several nice touches to the evening. During "All Through the Night," which is set in the ship's brig, Billy and Moonface were surrounded by movable jail cells designed by Tony Walton. While Billy (McGillin) sang "All Through the Night," he gently pushed aside two of the jail cells and walked through, creating one of the more moving moments of the night. Longbottom also supplied some wonderful choreography, and his staging of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" seemed sexier than ever. The singing and dancing sailors were also in fine form and looked as if they've spent these last few years buffing up in the gym!

Of the supporting cast, the standout was Contact's Boyd Gaines as Hope Harcourt's too-too British Lord Evelyn Oakleigh. Gaines played the part to perfection, scoring some of the biggest laughs of the evening. His ship deck Act II solo "The Gypsy in Me" — which featured some hilarious mugging by La LuPone — was a riot, and his pairing with the actress seemed a natural fit.

John Cunningham was suitably befuddled as Elisha Whitney, and if one missed Anne Francine's Evangeline Harcourt, Elizabeth Hubbard did fine with the part. Kaitlin Hopkins looked beautiful and did, perhaps, all that may be possible with the thankless role of Hope Harcourt. You had to feel sorry for her when she had to follow the excitement of "Blow, Gabriel, Blow" with one of Porter's duller efforts, "Goodbye, Little Dream, Goodbye." Michael McGrath drew laughs as Moonface Martin, the role that won the late Bill McCutcheon a Tony.

It's hard to believe that it's been 15 years since this classy revival of Anything Goes opened at the Beaumont, and even harder to believe that LuPone hasn't headlined a Broadway musical since. Sure, she's had terrific turns in the City Center Encores! production of Pal Joey; two straight plays, The Old Neighborhood and the current comedy Noises Off; as well as a pair of Broadway concerts, but there's been no long-run Broadway musical outing since Anything Goes. Let's hope some producer, perhaps someone at Lincoln Center, has the good sense to stage a musical for La LuPone — how about Irving Berlin's Call Me Madam? You couldn't watch the benefit without realizing how great a talent she is. In fact, it may be Cole Porter's Anything Goes, but last night it was definitely Patti LuPone's Anything Goes! Of course, wasn't it always (since Oct. 1987 anyway)?!

The complete cast — who performed the evening sans scripts — for the Lincoln Center benefit of Anything Goes follows:
Fred, a bartender: Jeff Williams
Elisha Whitney: John Cunningham
Billy Crocker: Howard McGillin
Reno Sweeney: Patti LuPone
Sailor: Rich Ceraulo
Girl: Danette Holden
Captain: John Jellison
Purser: David Hibbard
Reporter: Rich Ceraulo
Photographer: Kevyn Morrow
FBI Men, Randy Bobish, Rod McCune
Minister: Bruce Dow
Luke: Mark Oka
John: Eric Chan
Reno's Angels: Jennifer Paige Chambers, Jennifer Frankel, Renee Klapmeyer, Debra Denys Smith
Hope Harcourt: Kaitlin Hopkins
Mrs. Evangeline Harcourt: Elizabeth Hubbard
Lord Evelyn Oakleigh: Boyd Gaines
Erma: Linda Hart
Moonface Martin: Michael McGrath
Chantey Quartet: Rich Ceraulo, Bruce Dow, Kevyn Morrow, Jeff Williams
Sailors: Brad Anderson, Randy Bobish, Rod McCune, Brian O'Brien
Ship's Passengers: Rich Ceraulo, Bruce Dow, Sara Gettelfinger, Danette Holden, Kevyn Morrow, Allyson Tucker, Kim Varhola, Jeff Williams

—By Andrew Gans (Diva Talk runs Fridays on Playbill On-Line.)